The weather has warmed (at least warmer to us northerners!) but not too much for a comforting meal of soup and fresh baked bread, with fresh fruit for dessert for a light spring finish.
Mediterranean Lentil Soup--Vegetarian
canola oil (about a tablespoon)
1 large onion, chopped--1 to 1 1/2 c total
2 to 3 small carrots, diced--about 1 to 1 1/2 c total
1 c thinly sliced or diced celery--about 2 stalks (optional)
5 to 6 large garlic cloves, minced (at least a tablespoonful if you use bottled garlic)
1 pound brown lentils (green, black, or other colors can also be substituted)
8 c water--add more as needed to obtain desired consistency
3 to 4 vegetarian bouillon cubes
1 c diced potatoes
15 oz can tomatoes and chiles
8 to 15 oz tomato sauce or diced tomatoes, depending on how predominant you want the tomato flavor to be
1 t thyme
salt and pepper to taste
12 oz frozen chopped spinach (may use fresh if available)
1. Saute the onions and carrots (and celery if used) in the oil until the onions are golden. Combine with the lentils, garlic, water, and bouillon cubes.
2. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a very gentle boil. Continue to cook for about 30 to 40 minutes.
3. Stir in the potatoes and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so.
4. Stir in the tomatoes and seasonings. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes; taste and adjust for seasonings as needed.
5. Stir in the spinach and heat only long enough to return to almost boiling.
If desired, top with grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Serves four to six.
This is easily reheated and has excellent flavor the next day, though the spinach will not retain its bright green color well. The best way to maintain the brightest appearance if you are preparing this ahead is to proceed through the first four steps and then refrigerate the soup. When ready to serve, heat to a gentle boil and stir in the spinach.
NOTE: Though it will not be vegetarian, chicken broth can be substituted for the water and bouillon cubes.
NOTE 2: The use of the tomatoes and chiles gives this a bite that raises it from a relatively mundane soup. However, substitute plain diced tomatoes if your family prefers less heat. I'd still recommend at least a small sprinkle of cayenne and/or a bottle of hot sauce at the table for those who do want the added flavor.
This may seem like a lot of stop and start preparation, adding ingredients at various stages of the cooking. The soup could be made with everything added at once, but this approach means that the carrots, onions, and celery will be well cooked and blended into the liquid even as the potatoes retain their shape and color, and the tomato--already well cooked in the can--retains its separate character as well. The spinach of course is added to keep its color bright.
Actually, if you start cutting up all the vegetables at once, you will be able to just step over to the stove and stir in each additional ingredient with little real extra work. I'd encourage you to try this, some Saturday or long evening when you will be in the kitchen for other things anyway. If you don't see any real difference, then go ahead and put it all (except the spinach!) in the slow cooker and walk away. Either way, you'll have a home-cooked soup everyone is sure to love.